Losing faith in local government

The government has failed to meet the expectations of its citizens insofar as service delivery is concerned. A recent survey by the Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) shows that nearly 80% of the respondents sampled in 21 municipalities expressed total dissatisfaction with the services their municipalities provided and 78% of them have no idea how the councils spend their money.

Citizens expressed strong opinions about the poor performance of their district and local councils, in terms of both the quality of service delivery and the quality of governance in the past four years. In the past few weeks such issues have been claimed again as the cause of ongoing service delivery protests.

Despite the services the government has delivered to communities many people continue to see in local government a lack of the leadership and vision that would deal with the challenges that have persisted since the last local government elections.

Levels of citizen satisfaction with service delivery decreased dramatically between 2006 and 2010 — from 39,5% to only 11% of respondents. North West has the highest percentage of dissatisfied citizens, at 79%, followed by Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Among the reasons cited for the lack of service delivery are corruption, the dysfunctionality of councils and ward committees, the inability of municipalities to listen to the people and mismanagement within municipalities. The fact that most councils have not been able to tackle issues such as water, roads and job creation in the past four years, as noted by citizens, either shows a lack of responsiveness or an ineffectiveness in dealing with these persistent problems.

Nearly three of every four respondents said they were not well informed by the council about decisions taken. Only 15% were satisfied with information supply. KwaZulu-Natal is the worst affected. The survey shows that information supply has not improved despite, and even because of, the establishment of ward committees, which have not contributed to the improvement of governance in their areas.

More than 80% of respondents said councils should be more open and should allow more active citizen participation. North West and KwaZulu-Natal stand out, with 90% and 97% of respondents, respectively, who are unhappy about a lack of openness. Only 18% feel they have experienced a positive change in the way councils stimulate citizens to participate in local government. More than two-thirds of respondents — 70% — say their councillors do not represent their interests.

How many of these communities must lose faith in the government before we see a clear vision, with strong leadership, in this area of governance? The president, to judge by his State of the Nation address, did not have a solution.

Mvuyisi April is the regional coordinator of Idasa’s local governance unit

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